Intra-party turmoil among Democrats is at a fever pitch. Despite an overwhelming media narrative that the party’s nominating contest is over and Hillary Clinton has won it, Bernie Sanders continues to pick up primary victories. The Democratic establishment in media and politics are worried that Sanders’s continued presence in the race is hampering Clinton’s prospects against Donald Trump in November. And a season-long feud between Sanders supporters and the DNC erupted last week at a chaotic state convention in Nevada.
According to the mainstream media, the DNC tried to hold a fair convention but Sanders supporters ran amok with violence. But aside from texted threats – which are unforgivable, but certainly not campaign-coordinated – the most egregious claim of violence is that Sanders supporters threw chairs, an allegation for which a widely recorded event has so far produced no video evidence. And supporters’ vocal protests were a justified reaction to the DNC’s refusal to seat 56 delegates over technical identification issues.
Sanders supporters have every right to voice themselves when an injustice has occurred, and it’s much to Sanders’s credit that he stood by their peaceful protest and condemned their threats. It’s also much to his credit that he stood by some supporters’ decision to protest Clinton campaign appearances, so long as they aren’t actually disrupting her. Sanders doesn’t value party loyalty above the first amendment’s guaranteed freedom of peaceful assembly.
But that maverick streak concerns Democrats in the political and media classes. Fretful pieces have popped up in The Washington Post and The New York Times saying Nevada is evidence that Sanders’s continued presence in the race is damaging Clinton as a candidate. Sanders will certainly damage Clinton prospects if he makes a historic comeback and beats her for the Democratic nomination. But assuming she does become the nominee, his continued presence in the race should be making her a stronger candidate. Instead of vilifying the messenger, establishment Democrats should take the message to heart.
Party unity to the pundit class means Sanders supporters falling in line. Instead of calling on them to keep quiet their concerns about Hillary Clinton – including her paid speeches to Wall Street, already the subject of a Republican attack ad – they could call on Clinton to demonstrate a modicum of leadership by bridging the gap with Sanders supporters. For all that she touts her ability to work across the aisle in Congress, she’s having a very difficult time doing it in her own party.
Already the establishment is preparing to throw his movement under the bus by blaming it in the event that Clinton doesn’t beat Trump in November. But if Hillary Clinton runs against Donald Trump in the general election and doesn’t win, it won’t be Bernie Sanders’s fault – at least not for anything he’s done as a legitimate candidate in the still-contested Democratic primary. It will be her own weakness as a candidate combined with the public’s rejection of status quo politics as usual.
Take the issue of healthcare. From her time as First Lady in 1992 to her 2008 presidential run, Clinton supported universal coverage. In 2008 she even said Democrats shouldn’t attack one another on the issue, and should be united in their efforts “to put together a coalition to achieve universal health care.” Cut to 2016, and she says Sanders’s plan for universal health coverage will “never, ever come to pass.”
Clinton says this of a plan that has the support of 58 percent of the population. The only way an idea with 58 percent popular support could be politically impossible is if our elected representatives in both parties are beholden to some other interest. Perhaps Clinton’s change of tune has something to do with big pharma’s donations to her presidential campaign and reports that the industry favors her over any other candidate.
Unfortunately, Clinton appears ready to double down on what Joe Biden called the politics of “Well, we can’t do it.” She has expressed no interest in making her platform more accommodating to Sanders voters, which would allow her to utilize their energy and enthusiasm. Her campaign has instead shifted its attention to winning over big-money former Jeb Bush donors. This is precisely the kind of politics-as-usual that voters are rejecting in 2016.
Early polling already shows Clinton losing her edge over Trump in the general election. Pundits are ready to blame Sanders for a Clinton loss in November regardless of what happens between then and now. Their ire, as it was with Ralph Nader, is worse than unjustified. It’s a deliberate attempt to derail and throw under the bus a palpable, energetic political movement. And it’s that nasty cynicism that is threatening Clinton’s November chances, not Sanders’s passionate, energized political movement.